Segun Adewumi, National President of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), in this interview with SEYI TAIWO-OGUNTUASE, advocated for the creation of a Cassava Development Committee which will bring stakeholders together to discuss how cassava can be produced cheaply as well as boost employment opportunities. Excerpts:
Cassava is one of the commodities that benefitted in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Anchors Borrowers Programme. How will you quantify the programme to the cassava value chain and the farmers before and after?
We have not had it so good. In the past, farmers would apply to so many banks and the banks are not well exposed to agriculture, but right now especially in the association model we are happy.
There are two models; prime and association. Cassava farmers benefitted under the association model. Prime model is for individuals or corporates that want to drop collateral.
They pay some collateral, maybe 30 percent to obtain the loan. But for the association we don’t pay with collateral, they just give us some equity to contribute.
That really made it easy for ordinary farmers to assess. In the association model you don’t need to pay anything, the association guarantees the farmer; that makes ordinary farmers without collateral to have access to the loan.
Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, why are we still spending millions of dollars importing cassava derivatives?
It is the highest producer of cassava in the world, but the cost of producing cassava in Nigeria is the highest than any other country in the world. That is the problem; for instance a cassava chip is $200 when you take it to China, but it costs you $400 to produce it here.
Our cassava derivatives cannot compete in price with other countries. For instance ethanol, there are so many other crops they use for ethanol, we are producing less than 10 percent of the ethanol we use domestically, not to talk of export.
The same thing with industrial starch, we all know that cassava industrial starch is the best.
Our cost of production is the highest in the world, added to that is that we eat cassava; whereas some countries like Ghana and the likes don’t eat it, they just produce for industrial use.
The pressure on our cassava is very high, and an average person will want to use cassava for garri. If you want to use it for garri it is not lucrative for you, because you need four tonnes of fresh cassava to make a ton of garri, a ton of garri is N600, 000 or more.
When you use cassava for some cassava derivatives because of the competitiveness, you cannot sell it like that, so it pays you to do garri.
With the arrangement we are making I have always advocated that we should have what we call Cassava Development Commission or Committee that will fashion out how we can produce cassava more cheaply so that our cassava can penetrate the international market.
When we satisfy our own needs, what we import to Nigeria that we can use cassava to produce is worth more than N2trillion, if we now go ahead to cultivate maybe 20 million hectares of cassava even if it is just 10million hectares we will export cassava. Cassava can give us more money than oil. Why can’t we exploit it?
Apart from creating this Commission what other things do you think we can do to make our cassava competitive?
That is the only thing; we have to create a committee that will sit to look at why cassava is still expensive.
In the South here we don’t have tractorable lands. Our government in the South is not focusing on agriculture.
It is still better in the North. In the South it is hard to get contiguous land that is up to 2000 hectares that is cleared and without mechanisation you cannot get cheap cassava; this is one of the factors.
Right now, all over the world, even in the USA and other countries they are asking for cassava derivatives from Nigeria which can earn us a lot of money. Some of them are ready to deposit money to make sure that we produce cassava for them, but there is no arrangement for contiguous land for which we can produce cheap cassava.
I took the good news of cassava to the North, I met with the various Emirs in Kastina, Daura and it is now known that in the North it is now cheaper to grow cassava among them than the South because they don’t have this bush.
Their land is more succulent, so instead of ridging here they don’t need it there, the weeding is less there also and I have been able to preach to them that cassava derivatives do not have to be alcohol.
In ethanol we have two grades; fuel grades and food grades; fuel grade is the one that is used for automobiles and that one can be produced in the North because of their religion they would not want to be related with alcohol.
I spoke with them in Kebbi, we have just had 8000 hectares alone but we are talking about doing another additional 40 hectares in Kebbi alone, so you can see that the future of cassava is very good.
It is easier in the North because of lack of forest but in the South our governments need to be preached to so that they can clear the land and make it cultivable for us.
What is your association doing to address and improve on a low average yield per hectare of 7.7 metric tonnes while countries like Indonesia produces 23.4 metric tonnes and Thailand 22.2 MT?
The five stars that the CBN is sponsoring are targeting 30 tonnes per hectares, so we have the capacity.
What is the magic?
The magic is modern agronomical practices.
There are some things that made the yield to come down; one of them is the yield is competing with the cassava and the nutrient, that would reduce the yield, other factors are the type of cassava you are planting and the care of the cassava, cassava can grow as much as 43 tonnes per hectares here.
Are we having such in other farms around?
We have not, because the care for us to have it is not there. When you have a special farm we can do it and that is what we are trying to do and we expect to have at least 30 tonnes.
Is there any collaboration with IITA or any research institutions on this?
We get our stem from IITA and we have given them the job of extension services and the ADP too.
There is collaboration with all these technical people.
Garri now is quite expensive and it is scarce to get in large quantity. Why is it so, despite what we produce?
The reason is that last year we could not plant cassava because of so many factors, and there are a lot of industries springing up to process cassava so there is competition.
The demand is more than the supply, there is pressure on cassava.
What do we need to do to ensure that it is normalised because garri is a staple food on the table of an average Nigerians?
The CBN is about to release funds for conventional farming, they have made arrangements for 66,000 hectares so with that I think there would be an improvement and in the next one or two months the price would collapse.
Cassava can conveniently give 10 million Nigerians full employment, both industrial and food and also give us more money than we are getting from oil.
Do we have companies in the country that are producing some of these derivatives and what is their production like?
Their production is good, but there is no material, the cost of cassava is high, the problem is getting cassava at an affordable rate that will make their product compete with the international market.
You said cassava value chain can generate 10milion jobs; how many employment is it generating presently and are there plans to get to this height?
We are not doing it to 100,000 people. We are trying to create that awareness we are thinking that if the government can help like what we had during the Adesina regime committee was set up, for instance in cassava bread alone we can save up to N200billion annually if we use just 20 percent of cassava into our bread which will even make the bread better.
We are trying to plead with the government to revisit the cassava bread initiative because countries that heard about it and came to Nigeria to learn are now flying with it, most of the African countries are eating cassava bread and the USA themselves. But there are lots of politics involved in cassava bread, those who import wheat do not want to stop importing to the detriment of Nigerians, so these are the people we are competing with.
If the Federal Government pays attention to cassava, now that they know that cassava is not just a product of the South it is even better in the North, the better for the country.